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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN OF MATHEMATICS
discovered mathematics and he was already being driven by
his daemon. By the end of the year of awakening we learn that
'his queerness has alienated him from all his companions', and
his teachers observe 'something secret in his character'. Worse,
they accuse him of 'affecting ambition and originality'. But it
is admitted by some that Galois is good in mathematics. His
rhetoric teachers indulge in a little classical sarcasm: 'His
cleverness is now a legend that we cannot credit.' They rail that
there is only slovenliness and eccentricity in his assigned tasks-
when he deigns to pay any attention to them - and that he goes
out of his way to wean' his teachers by incessant 'dissipation'.
The last does not refer to vice, because Galois had no vieious-
ness hi him. It is merely a strong word to describe the heinous
inability of a mathematical genius of the first rank to squander
his intellect on the futilities of rhetoric as expounded by
pedants.
One man, to the everlasting credit of his pedagogical insight,
declared that Galois was as able in literary studies as he was in
mathematics. Galois appears to have been touched by this
man's kindness. He promised to give rhetoric a chance. But his
mathematical devil was now fully aroused and raging to get
out, and poor Galois fell from grace. In a short time the dissen-
ing teacher joined the majority and made the vote unanimous.
Galois} he sadly admitted, was beyond salvation, "conceited
with an insufferable affectation of originality'. But the peda-
gogue redeemed himself by one excellent, exasperated sugges-
tion. Had it been followed, Galois might have lived to eighty.
'The mathematical madness dominates this boy. I think his
parents had better let him take only mathematics. He is wast-
ing his time here, and all he does is to torment his teachers and
get into trouble/
At the age of sixteen Galois made a curious mistake. Una-
ware that Abel at the beginning of his career had convinced
himself that he had done the impossible and had solved the
general equation of the fifth degree, Galois repeated the error.
For a time - a very short time, however - he believed that he
had done what cannot be done. This is merely one of several
extraordinary similarities in the careers of Abel and Galois.
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